Saturday, 29 January 2011

The great library revolt continues …

Next Saturday, the 5th of February, read-ins will be held at libraries all over the country as part of Alan Gibbons' Campaign for the Book. Two weeks ago the residents of Stony Stratford borrowed every single book on the shelves in their local library, all 16,000 of them. Robin Ince writing in the New Statesman described it as "the first great library revolt of the 21st century."

Last week I posted an article suggesting that we could all follow the example set by the silent revolutionaries of Stony Stratford, and visit our local libraries on Saturday the 5th to borrow some books. Even better, why not take the whole family with us? In fact, why stop there? Let's get friends, neighbours, work colleagues … anybody and everybody, to visit their local library next Saturday and borrow some books. The more often libraries are used, the stronger the argument will be for keeping them open. It won't cost anything, except a few minutes of your time, and if you don't have a current library card then sign-up for one. It's free (Just take something with your name and address on for proof of ID)

But why should you give up your time? What does it matter if a few libraries close? According to the news, the country is on the brink of a depression, people are losing their jobs, life is getting tough for everyone – surely there are more important things to worry about than library closures? 
"Fine," writes Robin Ince. "In the struggle for existence, libraries may seem a low priority. But they are a sign that a society believes the life of the mind is important. If some are underused, the solution is not to shut them but to get people back inside them and remind them of why libraries are there." Indeed, in times of austerity, we will need our libraries more than ever. To borrow when we can't afford to buy, to access the internet when a home connection is beyond our means, and not least for the sense of community and place of refuge a library can provide. But don't take my word for it …

"For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that society has found one more way to destroy itself." – Isaac Asimov

"A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them." – Lemony Snicket

"We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth." – John Lubbock

"One of the fundamental ways in which we organise and make sense of our lives, the lives of others and the world in which we live is through stories." – Viv Martin

"The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries." – Carl Sagan, Cosmos

"The best of my education has come from the public library... my tuition fee is a bus fare and once in a while, five cents a day for an overdue book. You don't need to know very much to start with, if you know the way to the public library."  – Lesley Conger

"Librarian is a service occupation. Gas station attendant of the mind." – Richard Powers

"You might not belong to your library now, but, one day, when you walk by a building site promising luxury apartments, where kids on tricycles once excitedly wheeled back with their new favourite book on dinosaurs, you will be sorry that it is gone. Get out your library card and start borrowing again." – Robin Ince

So, please – spread the word. Let's see how many books we can borrow next Saturday (and beyond). We probably won't empty the shelves, but it's a start …

For a full list of library closures and a handy map see Public Libraries News
For more reasons to defend libraries, please see Voices for the Library 


  1. I'll be borrowing heaps of books on 5th! Luckily our libraries aren't closing, but I think it's really important to support this wherever you are. Libraries are a vital and extremely cost-effictive way of providing recreation and education all in one go.

  2. I wonder if the people who are making the decision to close our libraries ever used one?

  3. I will be working in my local library on February 5th (just 2 staff), and hoping lots of people turn up to register for a library membership card, borrow books, or simply make use of the facilities whilst they are there.
    We have saved this branch from closure on more than one occasion with help from the community... the struggle continues as the threat of closure always seems to be there. Sadly the community failed to save the Post Office opposite, which is greatly missed. We MUST NOT let them take our library away from the community as well.

  4. My local librarians panicked when I told them about this....

  5. What do the "authorities" propose to do with all the books of a closed library? Burn or pulp them? Storage, as our publishers tell us, is are librarians on the dole. The economic rationale sounds bonkers. Cultural vandalism doesn't come cheap!

  6. Excellent post, Dave. The motivation to keep libaries open is inspirational! I'll be joining you guys in spirit! Here's to turning the tide on closures.

  7. Thanks for all the great comments folks. You're right Jackie, my libraries aren't threatened with closure either, but their opening hours are being cut. The thin end of the wedge I fear. They reduce the hours, user figures go down and in a years time they will use this drop in figures as reason to close the branches. June, it's great that you have managed to save your branch in the past – proof that ordinary folk like us have power if we get together. Good Luck. Kathryn, that made me laugh. Great stuff – I can see the local newspaper headlines already! Good point Bridget – then I imagine, they haven't thought that far ahead … if they've thought at all. As Anne says, you wonder if these people ever used a library, though it's more likely they have conveniently forgotten the impact libraries have had on their own and their families lives.

    There are some good ideas of further things we can do on the CILIP website, here:

  8. This is an inspirational post, Dave! Such a simple idea -- worried about library closures? Borrow more books! Too late for our local library, but I'll pass the idea on. This is one of the few pieces of news I've heard this year that's made me smile.

  9. Thanks Nicky. Mike – glad to have raised a smile. The campaign seems to be gathering momentum, it will be interesting to see what materialises next weekend.

  10. Nice idea - let's max out our library cards instead of our credit cards!